Ahmed Ibrahim
3 min readMar 17, 2023

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The history of the Persian written in Arabic letters

Persian is a language with an opulent literary, cultural, and historical heritage. Persian has not only had a significant influence on contemporary literature but also on poetry in general. Hafiz, Sa'di, and Khayyam are just a few of the famous members of this large family.

Persian was recorded in writing for the first time around 500 BC. It has since had a significant impact on the history of the regions between the Mediterranean Sea and India.

In addition to the courts of the Mughal and Ottoman sultans, it was spoken and written in the Central Asian, Achaemenid, and Sassanid Empires. Jewish communities in the Iranian-speaking regions wrote Middle Persian in their Hebrew script, and Manichaean communities in Chinese Turkestan used to write Middle Persian in their sacred hymns.

Since Persian reflects the cultural characteristics of the many communities that spoke or wrote it, it can be said that it is a multifaceted, multicultural language.

Perso-Arabic, the writing system for Persian, uses the Arabic alphabet.

The Arabic language and script, like the dominant religion, Islam, began rapidly spreading throughout Iranian lands following the Arab conquest of Iran in the 7th and 8th centuries AD.

The Iranians, who had once controlled an empire and a religion as well (Zoroastrianism), soon found themselves in a challenging circumstance. The older Zoroastrian tradition and literature could not be revived because they had been abandoned with the acceptance of the new religion. On the other hand, Arabic was useful to a small group of poets and scholars but useless to the vast majority of the population.

The poets' predicament was particularly dire because only a very small number of people could read the profound poetry they had written in Arabic. The problem's solution was soon discovered to lie in using the well-known Arabic script to write in Persian. As a result, New Persian literature emerged.

For several reasons, it was essential to adapt the Arabic script.

First of all, the script that people used to write their language was determined by their religion back then. For instance, some groups of Christian Armenians who spoke Kipchak, a Turkic language, and lived in Eastern Europe a few centuries ago wrote their language using the Armenian alphabet. The Arabic script was therefore associated with Islam in the Near East just as the Armenian alphabet was among the Armenians of Eastern Europe.

Second, Arabic was much simpler to use than the Pahlavi alphabet, the previous script used to write Persian, simply because it had more characters. Its 28-character system was an improvement over the previous Pahlavi alphabet's 14 characters, which were also suffocating in the script's profusion of ideograms, "graphic symbols that represent an idea or concept, independent of any particular language, and specific words or phrases. Some ideograms are comprehensible only by familiarity with prior convention; others convey their meaning through pictorial resemblance to a physical object, and thus may also be referred to as pictograms."

Pahlavi script

Since Arabic and Persian are two distinct languages, the Arabic alphabet's 28 initial letters were gradually expanded by four.

The cultural aspect came in third. Arabic, the language of science and the arts, was intensely studied throughout the Islamic world. Additionally, it left a long-lasting impression on the other languages used in Dar ul-Islam, including Swahili and Indonesian. It had a particularly notable impact on Persian, introducing numerous Arabic words and expressions. The Arabic alphabet's adoption contributed to the words' continued recognition and correct orthography. After the old script was abandoned, Arabic was the only other viable option. It resembles the process that is currently taking place as numerous recently officialized languages modify the Latin alphabet to suit their requirements.

The Persian, or Perso-Arabic, alphabet is still officially used for Persian in Iran and Afghanistan, despite some intellectuals' insistence on changing it. In the 20th century, several minor orthographic emendations were made to the script.

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Ahmed Ibrahim

Full-fledged Content Creator & Tech Journalist. Worked previously with top publishers like AkhbarTech, Abda Adv, and RobbReportArabia.